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Need inspiration? Try this exercise to come up with new content ideas!

'So, does anybody have an idea for a new blog item next week?'

I used to be part of content teams that asked themselves this question regularly. Even now, as a consultant, I often encounter content teams that start their content meetings with this very question. Mostly followed by awkward silences. And people looking around them, hoping to see something they can write about. It never made sense to me. Actually, it was a big part of the reason I came up with the Content Mapping Tool.

You see, content should not be something that you as a company should come up with yourself. It's not like you can look around in your office building or plant, and suddenly go 'YES, we can write something about THAT!'.

It's not about what you want to tell about your business. Content marketing is about answering to the informational needs of your audience. It's about helping, and being relevant. It's about sharing your knowledge. But it can be difficult to get started. That's why we developed an exercise that can help you come up with new content ideas! Here we go.

Personas, customer journeys and question-answer-combinations

To be really capable of answering the informational needs of your audience, you need to know a thing or two about who these people are and what they want to know. We like to get a grip on this by working with personas, customer journeys and question-answer-combinations.

Each of your personas has their own questions. Imagine you sell content marketing software (isn't that convenient?). You could distinguish the following personas:

examples of personas

As you can imagine, a small business owner has very different questions compared to a commercial manager. But they also have something in common: their questions will change as they go through the customer journey. At first the questions will be fairly generic, as they are becoming aware of a problem and start doing their initial research. As they travel through the customer journey, the questions will become more specific. 

And you know what? If you know all of these questions then you will have more ideas for new content than you know what to do with!

The exercise

We developed an exercise which we use in initial workshops for our customers. Of course, you can do it yourself as well! This is what you need:

  1. A large canvas, like a whiteboard, a wall with Post-its or a Word-document projected with a beamer. Alternatively, you can use the Free Trial of Content Mapping Tool of course!
  2. Your personas. Don't have personas yet? Read this blog about creating them!
  3. A team consisting preferably of not just your content team. Try to include management, sales, service and even better: actual clients. Appoint one person as the leader of the exercise.

The exercise will take at least two hours, but probably a bit longer! Keep in mind though, that you can (and should!) keep updating the content map you are about to create!

Step 1: Draw a content map

A content map is a grid with two axes: personas and buying stages (the steps of the customer journey). The buying stages usually are (1) Problem Awareness (2) Researching Solutions (3) Purchase Decisions and (4) Happy customers.

Draw the map on your canvas and make sure you have enough space to fill the fields!

content map empty

Step 2: Start filling the content map with questions

In each of the fields of the grid, start writing down questions for the persona in that particular buying stage. To be clear: these are questions your persona is having about their problem, your solution and your company/person.

In this example you see a Microsoft Word template used as the content map. (Want it? Send me an e-mail!)

content mapping canvas example

Questions can be very broad, or very specific. Don't be afraid to use your imagination! Try to come up with at least 3-5 questions for each field of the content map. Please note: this part of the exercise can take quite some time! But, it's so worth it.

Done with the questions? Great! Because, no now you have it: a basic grasp of the informational needs of your entire audience as they go through the customer journey!

Step 3: Come up with ideas for content items

The next step is where the fun part really starts: coming up with new ideas for content items!

Basically: Every content item should be to a certain degree an answer to one of the questions you defined.

Also, keep in mind that one question can be answered in multiple ways, thus multiple content items! Depending on the media usage of your persona and the buying stage, you can choose between tons of different kinds of content, like blogs, whitepapers, infographics, videos, the list goes on.

So, let's say you have defined 5 personas, each of which go through the 4 buying stages. In each field of the grid you have defined 4 questions, which you can answer using 2 different content types. That gives you 5 * 4 * 4 * 2 = 160 new ideas for content items!

As you start creating (ideas for) content items, always map them into the your content map. This way you can keep track of your progress and it helps you to keep focus. Every content item should be 'mappable', otherwise it obviously doesn't answer to one of the defined questions and thus is probably not relevant enough.

Good luck!

Jeroen Huynen

About author

Jeroen is the CEO of Content Mapping Tool and an experienced content marketeer.